Dear John

Dear John,

By the time you read these lines, I’ll be gone.

I just can’t take your lies any more.

You have promised me so much over the years, and yet nothing changes.

You keep telling me that things are improving, but they never do.

You said that I’d be able to travel in safety. You promised that there would be direct ways for everyone to get from A to B, where anyone could feel safe.

But I can see now that it was all lies. You keep saying the right things, but never mean them. All I ever get is platitudes.

It would be easy to blame one specific person for the problems, but the truth is that many have contributed to them over a long period of time. (PDF)

When I was first old enough to vote, John Prescott made bold promises about cycling and public transport, which were broken beyond recognition.

A few years later, Cycling England promised “more people cycling, more safely, more often” but quickly became yet another proponent of personal liability and poor quality, dangerous attempts at infrastructure.

More recently, you gave me Boris Johnson, the cycling Mayor of London, a man who breaks his promises more often than he breaks wind.

I believed him at first, too. “Assert yourself,” he told me, so I did. It ended in aggravation and grief every time. Soon I was cowed into going the long way round, or more often not taking the bike at all, just to avoid trouble.

After six years in charge of the nation’s capital city, we’ve been given nothing but tiny specks of rubbish. His latest grand cycling project is to put some signs on some back streets.

There have been inquiries, reports, and debates ad nauseum, all for nothing. Even the Prime Minister made the right noises, briefly, before going back to business as usual.

You told me that I was exactly the type of person you want – someone who rides a bike to get around in a casual fashion, in normal clothes. But while I tried my best to do that, it’s clear to see why so many feel the need to dress for war.

So you’ve lost two people who are exactly the type you claim you want to keep. You failed us.

The cracks really started to show once I’d met some friends who showed me just what was possible. I had no idea how good things could be!

But back in Britain nothing was changing. It was the same old rubbish, time after time. Huge motoring projects continue to be given the green light, while cycling and walking wait at a toucan crossing.

So I’ve left you. Life is too short to spend banging my head against a brick wall.

I’m sure you won’t miss me – you probably won’t even notice I’ve gone.



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21 responses to “Dear John

  1. velovoiceblogspot

    Shocking. But I totally understand. And very well expressed.

  2. My thoughts. I will be gone, turned to ash and my lifetime again and still the promises of this and that for cycling will be going on. But very little change.
    40 years of waiting at Southend

  3. I often feel like this too. The situation here is so depressing and I have no hope of it improving in any meaningful way. I wish I had just been born in NL, because at this stage I don’t think I could bear to leave behind everyone I know in the UK.

    Where have you moved to? Good luck, wherever it is. I hope you keep up blogging!

    • For some reason – can’t quite remember why now – we’ve come to Berlin. The Netherlands still calls though, and we’ll be answering that call before too long! But for now, Berlin is giving me so much blogging material…

      • Chris Juden

        Good for you! I’ve also enjoyed cycling in Berlin. It’s not Amsterdam, but a whole lot better than London and although still only one third the size, provides a more directly comparable example of how to make cycling better in a really big city.

        I think that Germany in general provides a more appropriate comparator for UK, in that it has the same population density and same mix of hilly and flat geography. And although cycling in German cities did reach somewhat higher levels postwar than comparable British cities, and had not fallen so disastrously before revival commenced: the pro-cycling policies implemented by Germany cannot be dismissed as a special case with: “oh they’ve always cycled lots more in the Netherlands”.

  4. I hope everything goes well for you. Best of luck. (And make sure to visit Munster!)
    I’ve thought about doing the same…

  5. We will be sad to lose such a stalwart cycling campaigner. Enjoy yourself in pastures new – it was a pleasure meeting you on the Study Tour. Who knows, maybe our paths will cross again!

  6. davidhembrow

    Good luck S.C. Thanks for the good work done.

  7. remerson

    Are you really leaving? Where are you going?

    I’ve thought a lot about moving my little family to NL or even Copenhagen, often spurred on by Mr Hembrow and Mr Waggenuur’s posts filled with happy independent kids cycling themselves to school. Haven’t pulled the trigger yet, but I can’t rule it out.

    Anyway please tell us more, and please also keep us up to date with your progress. We really need to know! 🙂

    Here’s hoping the grass really is greener.

    • Yes, it’s true – we’ve already gone, in fact! We’ve ended up in Berlin, though the reasons for that are no longer clear. There’s so much blogging material here, so don’t worry – you haven’t heard the last of me!

  8. inge

    Goodbye Cat, have fun in Berlin even though it isn’t Groningen it’s much better than London and a very interesting city. I always loved your blog, your biting comments and your wicked sense of humour. Be safe and happy.

  9. Thanks to all of you who have commented on my leaving, it really means a lot to know I reached people. Don’t worry though, you haven’t heard the last from me! There’s so much to tell you about Berlin…

  10. Sara

    I have a son who’s 11. Too scared to ride with him when he was smaller, now trying to get him riding confidently on the shit British infrastructure.
    In retrospect, I so wish I’d up’d sticks and moved to the Netherlands when he was a baby.
    Good luck with your new life, keep us posted.

  11. Me too, after a few years trying to see what I could do to make cycling with my kids less harrowing. Seeing how little has been done in my lifetime and how based on current form my kids will be grown up before you will see anything that resembles a well designed road network. I too am off. I’m off to Holland this summer with my husband and kids to live. Luckily I already speak Dutch but that doesn’t stop it being a giant leap into the unknown that’s better than cycling with Jeremy Clarkson waiting behind me in his Jag.

    • The lack of change is painful, isn’t it? I don’t know how long we’ll stay in Berlin before being lured to the Netherlands!

      My niece is 5 years old, and like most other children in Leeds she gets driven everywhere. It would be entirely possible for there to be good walking and cycling conditions by the time she’s a teenager, but that won’t happen as Leeds City Council are still stuck in the 1970s, despite attempts to sound modern. She’ll continue to be chauffeured around until she’s old enough to drive herself.

      It breaks my heart to know that she’s missing out on a healthy childhood, and all the happiness, freedom and discovery that comes with being able to transport yourself around town. Along with millions of other British children though, she’ll never know life outside the metal box.

      I’m convinced that you’re doing the right thing. Good luck!

      • inge

        It’s terribly sad that you, Christine and others feel the need to flee your country because you aren’t safe outside on the streets, roads or pavements . Not because of muggings or robberies, just for the simple fact that riding a bike or walking makes you a target for killers in cars, buses and trucks. And so many times those killers get away with it, because to me your justice system seems unfair and biased when it comes to people who are NOT motoristst.
        A few months ago David Hembrow wrote about the flooding in England and why it will happen again . Because of the same stupid blindness and stubbornness the British Powers That Be and their lackeys show when it comes to changing U’K’s infrastructure for livable cities.

        It seems they don’t want to see it nor do they need to learn from others.
        Rule Brittania?

        But, Christine and SC, it will be nice to have you in this flat, windblown, rainy and rude little country of us. There is also lots and lots to moan about our politicians and cloggies! See ya!

  12. Daniel Lee

    Oh no! I’m genuinely sad to be losing what has become my favourite cycling blog. I made the move away from London to Wiltshire a few weeks ago and although there is (somewhat) less traffic, cycling infrastructure is just as pitiful. I hope you find the utopia you are looking for elsewhere.

    Is your future blogging activity to continue at this URL?

    • Thanks Lee. I’m now in Berlin, which despite it’s ~10% modal share is proving to be far, far removed from the Netherlands!

      I intend to keep blogging in English on here about transport conditions in Berlin, and I also have lots of unfinished posts about the UK which I should really finish.

      So you haven’t heard the last of me!

  13. paulc

    I was the victim of five nasty close passes complete with horns, abuse and pointy fingers pointing to the gutter last Friday morning when I asserted myself and took the lane on a simple 30 mph street through Churchdown between Gloucester and Cheltenham that had plenty of traffic coming the other way so was never safe for overtakes in the first place…

    These people were in far too much hurry to simply wait a few seconds for a safe gap to perform the maneouver as per the highway code. No, they virtually had to drive through me in their quest to do 40 mph through a 30 mph section on their way to work.

    I had some more abuse on the Sunday as well, but I was driving my car and waiting patiently behind a cyclist in a section with solid white lines on my side so I couldn’t overtake at all as the cyclist was doing more than ten mph… a landrover freelander was climbing all over my rear bumper and beeping his horn at me and finally did a completely illegal overtake of myself and the cyclist in the face of oncoming traffic as well causing the traffic coming the other way to brake… oh and the Freelander driver drove past shouting abuse at me and beeping his horn as well…

    I’m seriously considering getting a camera that can mount on both my dashboard or else on my handlebars…

  14. Pingback: Hand me my gun, I’m cycling to the shops | The Alternative Department for Transport

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